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Fiery Debate On Democracy And Freedom Of Speech At Day 2 Of YKA Summit!

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After the exhilarating Day 1, we kick-started Day 2 of the YKA Summit 2019, with an extremely sensitive issue, that’s on top of the minds of everyone in the contemporary socio-political environment of the country: Personal Liberty and Freedom.

Our illustrious panel included Siddharth Yadav (ABVP, Delhi Secretary), Sucharita Tyagi (Journalist), Rafiul Alom Rahman (Founder, The Queer Muslim Project). Shreya Munoth (Lawyer), and Angellica Aribam (Co-founder and Director of Femme First Foundation [FFF]). 

Rafiul Alom Rahman On The Queer Muslim Project

Sucharita moderating the discussion, immediately after introducing the panellists, asked the first question to Rafiul: “How do you ensure inclusion of people who’re disowned by their own families for being Queer and Muslim?”

Rafiul said, “Muslims have to apologise for being born Muslim”. As the crowd applauded he continued, “Being a Muslim is often a thing to apologise in the current political climate.” Talking about the queer community he said, “A trans person is apologetic for being a trans person.”

Rafiul’s humble response touched upon the journey of ‘The Queer Muslim Project’, reminding the audience of the lack of leadership in leading a Queer Muslim community, which desperately seeks a direction, however, expects people from outside the community to raise their issues.

Rafiul talked about the oppression of Muslims and atrocities inflicted on them and recalled how people are killed for what they eat, what they wear, and how they pray. Rafiul is a Bengali Muslim from Assam, and as a member of the queer community, he feels ‘doubly-marginalised’ and seeks a leader. “I have seen how an entire community has been treated with suspicion. It is not rhetoric, it is a fact.” 

In relevance to the erupting CAA debates, he states the non-inclusivity of transgender individuals due to several factors, including, abandoning their families or the ignorance in not including an option for non-binary folks! About 2000 transgender people were systematically left out of NRC in Assam. He gets overwhelmed and says, “Let us also acknowledge our privilege, let us understand where we are speaking from, and not speak for someone else, especially of the people coming from LGBTQIA+ community. Please pass on the mic!”

Coming back to the ‘Queer Muslim Project’, he talked about how he ran several social media campaigns, in order to inculcate awareness, and sensitivity, amongst people. He also included ‘creative storytelling’ on their handles to bring their stories and narratives to the mainstream. 

Shreya Munoth On Being Detained By The Police

Following which, Sucharita asked Shreya, in a friendly tone, (suggesting she knew the response), “Where were you yesterday?” Shreya Munoth, a lawyer by profession, introduced herself by saying, “Last night, I was at the Seemapuri police station.”

Pointing out the differential and hierarchical treatment between ‘protestors’ or ‘detainees’ and ‘lawyers’ or ‘activists’, Munoth said, “On 19th December, I was detained along with a bunch of lawyers and activists; last night I was trying to get the detainees out. What clearly stuck with me was the stark difference in the treatment that is been meted out to us, as lawyers, and activists, who were given VIP treatment. We were made to sit in warm rooms, provided food, whereas, yesterday, detainees were kept for seven hours including minors, at police stations with head injuries, and they were denied access to lawyers and medical care.” 

Next, Sucharita inquired about the question that’s trending on Twitter, with regards to the detainment of students by the Delhi Police, “Is this even legal?”. Talking of the recent anti-CAA protests on the streets of Delhi, she vehemently opposed the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate and sought the rights of the detainees. Speaking on the right to a lawyer and the right to medical aid, she said, “These are things that are constitutionally guaranteed, statutorily guaranteed rights that have to be spelt out to the police in certain states.” 

Protestors in Jantar-Mantar have been victims of police brutality; from lathi charges to water cannons. Munoth largely questioned the unconstitutionality of the Hindutva project and added, “Protestors who belong to a particular class, caste and religion are not the ones who pay for the excesses. It is clearly people belonging to a certain community.”

Answering Sucharita’s question on ambiguous legality of police brutality, Shreya questioned the very regression of criminal justice architecture. ‘A lot of it [laws] is colonial law, a lot of it hasn’t seen amendments since independence. All of these laws were meant to be tools of repression in the hands of a majoritarian government.” 

Shreya switched the conversation to the current futility and disbelief in the courts, she said, ‘Unfortunately though, in this day and age, courts have been rendered irrelevant and meaningfulness.” Elaborating further on Section 144, Shreya focused on the grounds of implementing Section 144, under “imminent” or proximate threat of violence, as Sucharita reiterated and emphasised on “imminent”. Shreya thoroughly discredited and disregarded the nation-wide imposition of Section 144 as “unconstitutional”.

In this sensitive discussion, upon getting a response on “Where does that [Section 144] order come from?” that it comes from the police, “Police authorising Police,” as mentioned by Shreya, Sucharita was witty in her response: “Basically coming from the Home Ministry.” And the audience burst into laughter.

Angellica Aribam: Femme First Foundation

Sucharita switched to Angelica and asked, “When did this begin? Why did you feel the need to start Femme?” Angelica was the National General Secretary of National Student’s Union of India (NSUI).

As a woman from Manipur, she felt doubly marginalised. She talked about the rampant sexism and misogyny that plagued her, in her initial days in politics. Talking about women empowerment, she seeks more awareness and discussion about women in politics. In order to empower, train and motivate more women in politics, Femme India would soon roll out a fellowship for bright women seeking a role in politics. 

Talking about Femme First Foundation, Sucharita asked, “It’s been a couple of months, but what sort of work have you done so far?” Angelica replied by talking about her campaign, ‘She Runs Government’, where they share stories and narratives, of women politicians, and their struggles. She got emotional and reminded the audience, how women in power must mentor and shape other women joining politics. 

Siddharth Yadav (ABVP, Delhi Secretary)

Beginning on a lighter note, Sucharita introduced Siddharth as someone whose “organisation doesn’t need any introduction”. It seemed to be a clear remark, on how the organisation, with which Siddharth is associated, Akhil Bharatiya Vidhyarthi Parishad (ABVP), has allegedly been involved in events, post-December 15, 2019 in Jamia Millia Islamia and across the country.

“How did you get involved with ABVP?” she asked him, to which Siddharth responded; “I started getting involved really late,” when he “realised that there’s more to college life and societies.”

And post this realisation, he began participating in various student-run bodies in Shri Ram College of Commerce, Delhi University. He’s a part of 12 student-run initiatives, including the Dramatics society, which he thought was “mainly dominated by the ‘other’ thought.” As a student and as a politician, Siddharth says that he had “several reasons to join ABVP.” He mentions that he’s “responsible for everything.” 

Responding on the recent protests against CAA, he clarified that “lots of student circles were not involved.” Reminding the audience of the Ramjas fiasco in 2017, he basically claimed that his organisation was innocent and framed. As the government claims, Siddharth also said that the media is creating a “perception and is basically taking away their freedom of thought.” And on this remark, the audience again burst into laughter. 

A Heated Debate Ensued

On NRC, he said that “nothing has been formed yet” and he doesn’t understand why there are protests and further added that “Give it time. Wait.” Everyone on the panel expressed their concerns, and asked Siddharth to give valid reasons for waiting; when the government just passes laws out of nowhere without debate and that there’s “no trust” among the people. So why should people wait? Shreya even condemned his statements as “ridiculous”.

Siddharth also requested people to not colour “his ideals” into separate ideologies. 

As the panel gained momentum and accusations and allegations flew here and there, amidst the heated arguments, Shreya failed to understand the need to monitor protests, as the constitution or the law doesn’t require the same. Rebutting Siddharth’s appropriation of Gandhi and Ambedkar, she said, “The right-wing loves to appropriate Gandhi and Ambedkar whenever they can,” further mocking Siddharth’s claim of not dividing Indians into rightists and leftists. 

Sucharita raised a pertinent question on the number of unfortunate internet shutdowns as a major threat to democracy, and liberty, and questioned the legality of such shutdowns arbitrarily.

Munoth pointed towards the Delhi Draft Act, 1885; yet another colonial law which is the source of internet shutdowns. Stating the unfortunate reality of India, suffering from large internet shutdowns, Kashmir was obviously the subsequent topic, since it has faced maximum shutdowns. “The Supreme Court has reserved its judgement, we are awaiting the SC’s judgement of the validity of such internet shutdown orders can be passed for an indefinite amount of time over an entire state.”

However, she commended the Guwahati High Court’s judgement of restoring internet in Assam at 5 PM on Thursday, she said, “Accounting India’s international human rights obligations and India’s constitutional rights obligations, the jury’s decision is still awaited!”

Debunking the NRC-CAA legalities, Shreya further tried to put forth the facts, however, she was opposed and cross-questioned by ABVP member, Siddharth.

Concluding her statement, she admired the intent of the law, as being ‘inclusive’, however, criticised the very ‘under-inclusivity’ of the law. Strengthening her claim, she said, “No one in this panel says we should not include religiously persecuted minorities, it is just about the symbolic effect of the legislation that terrifically excludes one community.”

The audience erupted to voice their opinions; however, all questions were directed to the most controversial of the lot – Siddharth Yadav. The session ended on a furious note as opinions clashed and words were exchanged, however, all that Youth Ki Awaaz was proud of was, restoring what democracy stands for – dissent and freedom of speech! 

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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